I am thrust through a fire exit and the door slams shut behind me. His last words ring in my ears, that I am not to breathe a word of what has just happened to anyone… I stand, icy-cold water dripping from my hair, the taste of a young man’s blood in my mouth; my belongings are in a bag at my feet. A pile of sodden white t-shirts on a chair is a testament to those who have gone before me. Those who, like me, have made it through the Fraternity’s Initiation. We are in. But what exactly have we gotten ourselves into?
FRATERNITY: NOT JUST A NEW SCARE ATTRACTION
It was in March, 2017, that a new Twitter account became active, @joinfraternity. With impressive graphic design and messages like “Enter and kneel before your new master” and “No one knows what happens behind closed doors #joinfraternity” – this was more than intriguing. It was exciting.
On the surface, Fraternity appeared to be an upcoming scare attraction, from the minds behind 2012’s Project Fear and, more recently, the infamous Cracked Survival Experience – Faceless Ventures (FV). Frequent Fear, “the podcast that gets under the skin of the haunted attraction industry”, released two episodes that seemed to chronicle the creative process of FV’s Lee Conway. You can listen to the first episode here, and the second here.
But there was also a sense of something more, that the tide was about to turn in the UK’s scare industry. And I was about to get swept along with it, pulled into the dark world of a secret society that would leave the fourth wall a mere dot in the distance…
FRATERNITY: THE UK’S FIRST HAUNT-BASED ARG
Alternate/Augmented Reality Game (ARG) – an interactive narrative that uses the real world as the platform, and multimedia (including social media, email and phone calls) to deliver the story to players or “participants”. Working together as a community, players collaborate to solve puzzles, and analyse events. They interact directly with characters driven by the ARG’s creators, either through the aforementioned media or during in-person meetings. Their actions and ideas can influence the plot.
In early April, accounts across various social media platforms surfaced – all belonging to a man by the name of Dr. Henry Issac. A self-confessed conspiracist, Issac had been researching a secret society or Fraternity, named the Ordre d’Elysium, for decades. He was close to a break-through, but the Ordre was aware of his activities and were doing everything they could to keep him quiet, including hacking into, and closing down, his social media accounts. He needed help.
I reached out. I had experience in dealing with, and battling against, a nefarious cult through The Tension Experience. Maybe I could be of service? Little did I know that this was the beginning of a friendship that would help Henry navigate his way through difficult interpersonal interactions, but would ultimately do little to prevent his demise…
Dr. Issac set up a Facebook group, OdEwatch, to facilitate the sharing of theories and information amongst those attracted to his cause. A small group of veteran extreme haunt fans had come together following the Frequent Fear podcasts and I was welcomed into their private Facebook chat. Although they already knew each other, they welcomed me, and other “outsiders”, with open arms. Their distrust was targeted directly at Issac. And it seemed the distrust went both ways, with Henry often reticent to answer personal questions and defensive of his right to share his knowledge on a need-to-know basis.
All we knew at this point was that time was of the essence – the Ordre only opens its doors for a small window once every 10 years, seeking out the brightest and best to reinvigorate the Fraternity with new blood. Henry told us the window was fast approaching and he could share something with us that would give us the exact dates of an upcoming Initiation ceremony… if we were able to crack the code.
At first, Issac claimed he had merely stumbled upon the parchment while researching, yet later revealed he had received it through a connection within the Ordre, an old friend. The team tentatively attempted to decipher the document, drawing lines between small markings within the text, but beyond finding the Star of David, we were at a loss at how to uncover the vital information hidden within.
Either impatient at our lack of progress or rewarding us for getting as far as we could, Issac came forward with a video, showing us how he had solved the puzzle back in 1986.
We now had the date: July 14, 2017. This was confirmed by Lee and Gary of Frequent Fear (nicknamed “the two clowns” by Issac) as the proposed weekend for their event, “Fraternity: Initiation”, although they seemed baffled as to how Henry had managed to get hold of this information. They dismissed him as a random crackpot, but were they hiding something? Were they working with the Ordre, promoting a scare attraction as a front for a more nefarious scheme? Or, as Henry seemed to believe, were they merely the unwitting pawns of an organisation that claimed to have members amongst the highest ranks of the rich and powerful?
Further information was revealed as several members of OdEwatch received e-mails from someone claiming to be within the Ordre, using the moniker “Deep Throat” (DT). Utilising binary code and cryptograms, we were presented with a three-part puzzle that again seemed impossible to solve. With one final hint, Mechesburg 01709SE4700, we realised we not only had a geographical location, Mexborough, South Yorkshire, but an actual address – the converted Victorian grammar school on Old College Road.
As time passed, many earned a nickname from our mysterious insider, all with references to Greek mythology (such as Hermes, Athena, Actaeon), all hinting at DT’s impression of our role within the group. The study of the Ancient Greek civilisation was clearly fundamental to education within the Ordre, which again came into play when an e-mail written in the Greek language revealed a portion of what appeared to be a waiver, referencing situations such as isolation, physical pressure, and verbal mocking.
Even the purchasing of tickets to the event was posed as a challenge for the group of wannabe initiates. Via text messages, DT provided me with clues leading to a hidden webpage that, once shared with OdEwatch, allowed us to book our slots directly with the Ordre before the two clowns released the tickets for their “scare attraction” to the general public (something which served to further baffle the event’s self-professed creators). Guiding the team through this task earned me my own mythological nickname: Theia, a shining light.
With the logistical elements of the Fraternity’s Initiation locked into place, attention focused on the two figures we were interacting with. All we knew of DT was their e-mail address, magendavid1897 (Magen David referring to the Star of David we had seen in the parchment) and that they were a younger member, brought up within the fraternity, only now being able to make contact with the outside world for a short period of time as Initiation approached. There was a sense of not only urgency in DT’s messages, but of desperation. This was someone who appeared unhappy with their situation, someone who wanted out. But why?
Henry warned us that the Ordre was a bad thing but was unwilling to go any further. It was clear that there was a lot this grumpy, old academic wasn’t telling us, but he would become hostile on being pressed publicly (although I continued to talk with him privately, listening to his frustrations while trying to engage him over the concerns expressed by the group). This was especially true regarding his relationship to DT, who he claimed not to know despite having already let slip he had an old friend on the inside. Things were not adding up.
Many had come to Fraternity expecting an extreme haunt, but were now finding themselves embroiled in a complex and immersive mystery…
The identity of Deep Throat was finally revealed via a video on June 1, showing a clearly terrified girl in her mid-teens. Magen. The stakes were higher than any of us had imagined: life and death. And she referred to us as her “only hope”. But we were still left with more questions than answers. Magen offered to answer three such questions, as a gesture of both gratitude and trust, if we were able to solve three ciphers within 10080 minutes (seven days).
Answers revealed a bible passage (Ezekiel 7:7), and a JFK speech from 1961 that conspiracy theorists believe hints at a new world order (cited as the one time the Ordre was close to being revealed). But time to dwell on their relevance was short as the focus turned to our reward. Hidden from Henry’s prying eyes, the group discussed their options and three questions were chosen, enquiring about what there was to be afraid of, why Magen wanted out and, the most pressing for many, what she knew about Dr. Issac.
Her response was more revealing than we could ever have hoped:
The Ancient Order have for centuries done what is needed to get what they want. They will stop at nothing to get who or what they require to survive as a secret order. The initiation is all about finding out if they have the right candidate for the society. It is supposed to be demanding and rewarding. In the inner circle, it is seen as a great honour to complete all the situations.
It is different for me and the others that have been born into the society. We never had a choice like you have. Some of the internal rules make it very difficult for us to live a normal life, to do things that most people my age do. Some things are frowned on and just not allowed.
Sometimes I just want a normal life. Some may say we are privileged, we want for nothing, but money can’t buy everything.
My Father knew Henry 25/30 years ago. They were best friends then my Dad found the order and everything changed. I also know his son, Henry Jr. I’m not sure which one you are in contact with though.
I hope these answer your questions.
A real emotional connection with Magen had been formed; the preconceptions about Deep Throat long forgotten as we were faced with a smart, brave, yet tormented, young woman.
It was now that Issac finally came clean. He was Henry Jr. After their fathers had fallen out, Magen had tracked him down and they had been communicating in secret ever since. He was the real reason she wanted out. But as with all Romeo and Juliet stories, these star-crossed lovers would be denied their happy-ever-after…
All went quiet for a month, until July 12 when a disturbing video appeared on Issac’s personal Facebook page, showing him trapped within the location of the upcoming Initiations. His impatience had been his undoing. Unable to wait for our assistance, Henry Jr had attempted to get to Magen by himself.
The group frantically tried to contact him to no avail. We turned to Magen for help, but she hadn’t been able to get hold of him “for weeks”. All her “outside world privileges” had been taken away as the Initiation approached and she was typing quickly before the “Origen” found her. She had been able to sneak a peek at some ancient texts, but the only word she had been able to decipher was “sacrifices”. She told us to “stay safe”.
The next morning, a post appeared on the OdEwatch Facebook page:
Hello this is Origen – this secret group has been a real good read today, it looks like you have taken a real liking to young Henry and my daughter!
It has been decided by the Ordre that you do not deserve to wear the ceremonial garments and so we have replaced these with other clothing items.
Our group had been compromised. And upon attempting to warn Magen of further danger, we received an even more chilling response: “Thank you for letting me know. I have confiscated Magen’s phone too – Origen”
We were heading into the Fraternity’s Initiation in Origen’s bad books. This did not bode well. What would we face within those walls? Would we get to Henry and Magen in time? Could we save them? Did we want to? By the close of the weekend, we would have our answers…